Sunday, March 21, 2010
This is an unlikely Marxist novel. Now that's not to imply that this is some clunky Stalinist era-story, telling of the great successes of Comrade X as he strives to help the Soviet Nation to acheive greatness. Rather, this is a novel written by someone who has a Marxist understanding of the world, plus, I imagine, some experience of the upheavels that French society went through in the 1960s and 1970s.
This is perhaps best summed up by a section of the opening chapter;
"The reason why Georges is barreling aling the outer ring road, with diminished reflexes, listening to this particular music, must be sought first and foremost in the position occupied by George in the social relations of production. The fact that Georges has killed at least two men in the course of the last year is not germane. What is happening now used to happen from time to time in the past."
The George of the above paragraph is an ordinary travelling salesman, who drinks too much, as a couple of kids and a beautiful wife. In his past, he was a radical militant - from, oblique comments refering to Stalinists - I presume, some sort of Trotskyist organisation. He still retains some of his previous understanding of the world, though it's perhaps now clouded by cynicism.
The author doesn't try and shove marxism down your throat. As my earlier quote points out, the big picture of the novels character is determined by larger social forces. But the detail of the story depends on small individual actions. In George's case, his helping an injured man from a car wreck, sets him up in the sights of soome hired gunmen, who hunt him the length and breadth of France. George goes on the run, hiding out in France's small towns, and eventually escaping his death sentence with a mixture of luck (good and bad) and violence. The ending is neatly done, leaving the story with enough closure to make the reader happy, but it's an uneasy happiness, George is changed by his experiences and not necessarily for the better. What happen's next is in our imagination and who knows were that goes.
Note: I'm indebted to Pechorins Journal for his review of this novel that first brought it to my attention. I'd recommend reading it for a more detailed analysis of the book.
Ambler - The Mask Of Dimitrios